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Protected (Book 1 in the Ariya Adams Trilogy)

By @AuthorAnnaApplegate

Chapter 1

I awoke with a start. 

A falling sensation that now frequented my dreams jolted my sleeping mind and body into a conscious state of awareness. I could never remember the pieces of those falling dreams before the unsettling sensation hit. I just jerked awake and remembered being mid-air. I’d never had any trouble sleeping before, but it had been happening quite a bit for the past month, and I still couldn’t put my finger on why. This time, when the panicked freefall rocketed me to an upright position, a well-worn copy of Pride and Prejudice slid off my chest and thudded against the bedroom floor.

“Everything okay, Ariya?” My roommate Caroline stood smirking in the doorway of my room. 

I sighed dramatically. “Mr. Darcy was just chasing me. If I had stayed asleep a second longer he would have caught me.” 

I laughed and bent down to pick up my book from the floor before waving it at her. 

She rolled her eyes at me while the corners of her mouth quirked up in a playful grin. 

“You’d think after being your roommate for three years I’d be used to your snark when it comes to the great Mr. Darcy.” Caroline turned and headed toward the kitchen before yelling, “I’ll make you coffee if you get your butt out of bed.”

Who can resist coffee?

“Are you going to tell me why you’re bribing me with coffee this early in the morning?” I asked while hopping up onto our kitchen barstools.

“One, it’s not early and two, we have things to do,” she said over her shoulder as she grabbed two mugs.

I glanced at the clock and noticed it was already after one. Good gosh, Ariya way to be lazy.

“Things to do, huh? We’ve only been back to campus one day!” 

Acting as if she didn’t hear my groaning, she continued, “I ran out to get some mixers while you were in la-la land and bumped into Ashley. She’s been back two seconds and already has her next target set. It’s ridiculous.” She rolled her eyes again. She loved doing that. Come to think of it, the woman had a flair for doing anything dramatic, and I loved her for it. 

“She’s having some people over to her place tonight and she said we must come.” She said the last part of her statement in her mocking Ashley voice—a high-pitched, southern belle-like tone that reminded me of Scarlett O’Hara. I couldn’t help but stifle a laugh. 

“Meaning she has a new conquest already and she’d like to parade him around.” I walked around the corner prepped my mug with milk and sugar before the coffee pot was done. There are some things you shouldn’t have to wait for. 

Caroline pursed her lips and made a face, confirming my thoughts. “I’m in. It’s always fun to watch her try to work her magic.” I walked toward the living room and absent-mindedly flicked on the television. The news was the first thing to pop up on the screen. I frowned and turned toward the kitchen. “Since when do you watch the news?” I teased. 

“The cable probably got reset back to channel three when I reactivated the account after summer break, smart aleck.” She raised her eyebrow at me. 

I was about to make my way to sit over at the kitchen bar again when a sketch flashing across the screen caught my eye. I turned up the volume as the anchor covered the story.

“Two hikers became the victims of a strange animal attack while hiking the Willow Valley Trail yesterday evening,” the anchor said in a serious tone. “An eyewitness, and sole survivor to the attack, provided a description to a sketch artist of the animal shown here. The hikers tried to escape, but only one managed to get away. Christopher Luxon returned back to town safely. The other hiker, Samuel Dorchky, is still missing.”

I watched the screen in shock. I’d never heard of any animal attacks in the area before, and Willow Valley Trail was only about fifteen miles from town. It was a well-traveled walk when weather permitted. In fact, Caroline and I had hiked there before numerous times. The hand-drawn image on the TV depicted what looked like a large, ragged-looking wolf. The news just called it an animal. 

“Did you see this?” I waved the remote at the screen and looked over at Caroline, who was busy making her own cup of coffee now that the pot was officially done. 

She shrugged. “Yeah. Weird, right? I’m sure it’s just random, though. I mean, seriously, it’s not like animal attacks are the norm here.” 

“Yeah, odd.” Turning my attention back to the television, I switched channels to something a bit more lighthearted and then laid the remote on the bar in order to refocus my attention on Caroline. 

“So what are you wearing tonight?” Caroline looked over from the stove expectantly after dumping an obscene amount of sugar into her cup. 

“Can’t you pick?” She raised her eyebrows at my response. “Come on,” I whined. “Just because it’s senior year doesn’t mean I’ve magically developed some sort of fashion sense.” 

“Ariya Adams! Have you not learned anything from me? I try so hard and nothing. Sometimes it’s like you just don’t care,” she said sarcastically. “Please tell me you didn’t spend the entire summer wearing your usual t-shirt and jeans ensemble.” 

I gave her an innocent look and shrugged my shoulders.

 

“Unbelievable! At least we were together for half of it. That means you only looked like a wreck fifty percent of the time.” 

I balled up a napkin and threw it at her, but I couldn’t help the smile the crossed my face. 

“Speaking of this summer…” she trailed off for a second, “I met someone.”

My head jerked up and I looked at her in shock. “What?” I knew I probably looked like a psychopath with my eyes wide and mouth hanging open. 

“Yeah, I know, crazy.” She smiled. 

“We talk every day. How in the world did you not mention this already? When? What’s his name? How’d you meet him?” Excitement radiated from me and the questions came out at lightning speed. 

“You’ve been so anti-guy since Derrick that I just thought I’d wait to bring it up when we could gab again in person.” 

“We’re not speaking of Mr. If-you-don’t-put-out-then-get-out. We’re talking about you,” I exclaimed in mock anger.

She pursed her lips before breaking out in a full-on grin. “His name is Nick. We saw each other almost every day for two weeks. He was working across the street from the café, then one day he walked in before his shift. We just started talking, and then hanging out and, well, you know…” She winked at me.

“So,” I said as I leaned over the counter eagerly “when do I get to meet him?”

“About an hour.” She laughed and I shook my head at her. Of course he was on his way already. She may have been Miss Independent, but when Caroline wanted a man, she made it happen. 

“Well, I’m sure you really can’t wait for tonight, now. You can show off a bit yourself. I’m sure her new guy has nothing on Nick.”

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